Windows on the world


The Pilgrimage of Grace
(first published in Kosmos Journal fall/winter 2009)

We are a community of human beings, organised in such a way that individual responsibility for the production of goods, foods and services is entrusted to specialists so as to provide efficiencies and economies of scale. When the common good is not best served in this way, individuals must take back some of the functions thus delegated. Increasingly over the last decade individuals have suffered from abuses of the power enjoyed by governments and commercial and financial institutions.

When universal suffrage was established as an inalienable right of the Commons it was recognised that individuals needed specialist middle-men to provide government. Now, however, we have the technology to permit the Commons to govern themselves. It is time to turn some of the decision-making over to the people.  Rather than being given one vote every five years, we the Commons should be allowed to vote electronically on matters such as environmental protection, health care, and budgetary allocation of funds. Politicians should restrict their activities to informing and advising.

Those wishing to hold on to power would no doubt suggest that the Commons cannot be trusted to put personal interests aside, but we are educated and well-informed, and it is difficult to imagine that we could be any more greedy or selfish than bankers and politicians have been in recent years. In any event, checks and balances could be built into the system. Perhaps it should take a 75% majority for constitutional change, erosion of human rights, or declaration of war on another sovereign state. Could we expect an elected government to relinquish power in this way? There are precedents. Both Gorbachev and F.W. de Klerk sacrificed personal and party power for democracy. We, the Commons, must make it clear that this is what we want.      

In the sixteenth century King Henry VIII moved against the British monasteries. The Commons rose in protest at this perceived abuse of power, not to overthrow the monarchy but to rectify the flaws that had crept into the government. The more successful of these risings, in Yorkshire in 1536, became known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Churchill once said that democracy was the worst form of government ~ except for all the other systems that have been tried. The implication is that democracy is flawed, but elected politicians seem content with the status quo. If change is to come, it must be from an external agency with vision and integrity, perhaps providing a focus for the rise of the Commons, a modern-day Pilgrimage of Grace.

Harvey Tordoff
Aug 2009